Mark Sanchez and The New York Jets Are Proving Week 1 Was a Fluke
After barely making it into the playoffs last season the New York Jets managed to get hot and make a run all the way to the AFC Championship. They followed that by having a very loud offseason, bringing in several big name players and cutting some of their key players from last season.
Most of the noise came from their head coach Rex Ryan. The Jets were the focus of the HBO training camp documentary "Hard Knocks." However many people were getting tired of the arrogant Jets. The Jets were self declared "Super Bowl Contenders" but many people thought the Jets were forgetting that they were just 9-7 last season with a QB who threw 20 INTs last season.
The season started out in a disastrous way for the Jets, when they lost 10-9 to the Baltimore Ravens. The critics were out in full force after that, with some even claiming the Jets season was finished after just one game.
We are now a quarter of the way through the season and the Jets are 3-1, defeating all three of their divisional opponents. While many critics claimed that last years run to the AFC championship was a fluke, the New York Jets are proving that the only fluke that occurred was in their Week 1 loss. Here are six reasons why.
The Ground and Pound Offense Is Finally Coming Alive
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The Jets bread and butter last season was the ground and pound rushing attack. The game plan for this season was supposed to be more of the same for the Jets offense.
However, the ground and pound got off to a very slow start against the Ravens in Week 1. Many critics were saying the Jets were wrong to let go of left guard Alan Faneca and last seasons leading rusher Thomas Jones. Many felt that they overrated Shonn Greene and new signing LaDainian Tomlinson.
The Jets running game would improve in their next two games against division foes New England and Miami, before exploding out against Buffalo.
The Jets ran for 273 yards against Buffalo. More importantly, both Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for over 100 yards. LaDainian Tomlinson continued to make everyone who said he was washed up eat their words, as he looked as explosive as ever, while rushing for 133 yards and two TDs on just 19 carries.
One of the biggest reasons for the Jets breakout run game was the gelling of the offensive line. Matt Slauson has struggled to fill in for Fanaca at the left guard spot, leaving the Jets pass blocking, and run blocking struggling. The Jets offensive line seems to be gelling much better now, allowing them to get back to opening up big holes for their running backs to burst through.
The Jets Passing Game Is Becoming Very Explosive
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When you can run the ball with success it opens up many different options for the passing game. The Jets have been figuring out how to utilize these options with great success during their three-game winning streak.
Mark Sanchez was tremendous in the absence of a running game during the New England and Miami wins. Against Buffalo, with the Jets running game going full throttle, the Jets were able to open the playbook and use a lot of play action to throw down the field. The results were devastating for Buffalo, as many times the defense was completely fooled. Sanchez only threw 24 passes, but he completed 14 of them for 161 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
The defining play came at the goal line, when Sanchez play faked to Tomlinson causing all three of Buffalo's linebackers to rush the line of scrimmage to stop the run. The result was Sanchez having his choice of three different wide open receivers to throw to in the end zone, a pass he completed to Dustin Keller for Keller's second touchdown of the game.
With the Jets passing game playing the way they have over the last three weeks, and running game starting to look the way the Jets expected it to, the Jets offense is looking like one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL.
The Defense Is Getting Itself Back Into Shape
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After getting picked apart by Chad Henne in Miami, the Jets defense got exactly what the doctor ordered the next week, a matchup with the Buffalo offense. The Jets defense allowed over 300 yards passing to the Dolphins, against Buffalo they played a much more complete game.
The defense still had its breakdowns, giving up a touchdown in less then two minutes at the end of the first half, and another big drive in the second half but the rest of the game they were fantastic. Ryan Fitzpatrick was under constant pressure and struggled to gain any rhythm.
Last week, with All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis inactive due to a sore hamstring, Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall torched the Jets secondary. CB Antonio Cromartie, whose job it was to cover Marshall couldn't keep up. The Jets had to adjust the defense and couldn't put pressure on Chad Henne.
That wasn't an issue against Buffalo. Antonio Cromartie limited No. 1 Buffalo wideout Lee Evans to just one six-yard catch. With Cromartie playing one-on-one coverage against Evans effectively, the Jets were able to come with many blitzes from around the edge to keep the pressure on Fitzpatrick.
Dustin Keller Is Emerging As a Star Tight End
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Going into this season, Dustin Keller's best season came in his rookie season in 2008 when he had 48 receptions for 535 yards and three touchdowns. Over the span of his career, he had just five regular season touchdown catches.
This season through just four games, Keller already has 19 catches for 254 yards and five touchdowns. Keller is becoming Mark Sanchez's favorite target, and a man he looks for on many important third downs. More importantly he is becoming a reliable go-to target in the red zone, a weapon that has allowed the Jets to score on all but one trips to the red zone this season.
Keller's size and speed make him a match-up nightmare for defenses. He is too big to be covered by just a safety and too fast to be controlled by a linebacker. This creates many problems for opposing defenses.
The most important improvement in Keller's game has been him much improved run blocking. When Keller first came into the league, his run blocking was far below average. The Jets would often have to use other tight ends to come in and block when the Jets wanted to run the ball. Keller would come in when the Jets wanted to throw. This made the Jets offense very predictable.
Keller now has improved his run blocking, he is no longer a liability to be on the field when the Jets are going to run. This has made him a much more complete tight end, and more importantly, it adds unpredictability to the Jets offense.
The Jets Are Finding Ways to Use All of Their Weapons
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Next week on Monday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings the Jets will welcome off-season acquisition Santonio Holmes to the offense.
With Holmes returning, the question becomes who is going to see less time on offense to make room for Holmes. The popular answer is WR Jerrico Cotchery, who did not seem to do much offensively in the first three games.
My answer is different from the popular answer. The answer is everyone. Every single player will have a more limited role in the offense when Santonio Holmes joins the team. There are two reasons, a rotation will allow the players to stay fresh, and the Jets will find ways to use all of them.
When people said Cotchery would be the odd man out because of weak performances in the first three games, the Jets responded by getting him involved in the passing game early against Buffalo. Cotchery caught a few big third down catches to keep drives alive. The Jets still managed to find Braylon Edwards four times, including another big touchdown catch, and he drew another big pass interference penalty to set up a touchdown. We have gone into full detail about how they are using Dustin Keller on third downs and near the end zone.
The Jets now have their running game back on track as they got both Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson over 100 yards rushing against Buffalo. Being able to use both running backs successfully will allow the Jets to keep them both fresh, and continue to pound the ball the entire game.
Another man to emerge and have a great game was Brad Smith. Smith continues to catch a couple of third down passes here and there making him an effective receiver to have. His main contribution has come from taking snaps out of the "wildcat formation." Smith again ran two successful options against Buffalo, one that he kept himself for a big gain, and one that he pitched to Tomlinson for an even bigger gain. His biggest play however came at the goal line when he pulled up and lofted a touchdown pass to Dustin Keller. If Smith proves he can be effective throwing the ball, the Jets will have so many weapons, that if some of them are ineffective in one game, they will have plenty more options to choose.
Wins Speak Louder Than Everything
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When all is said and done, if you want to prove your critics wrong, go out there and win football games. After the Jets Week 1 loss against Baltimore, QB Mark Sanchez said to Rex Ryan "there is nothing wrong with going 15-1."
The media may have laughed at those comments coming after such a horrific performance, but so far the Jets have done nothing but win since then. The brash trash talking Jets were looking at a schedule that for the first four weeks saw them play Baltimore, followed by three straight intradivision games. With Mark Sanchez being just a second-year starter, many experts predicted the Jets to go through this stretch with a 2-2 record at best, more likely 1-3.
But in the end, with one quarter of the season played, the Jets are 3-1, with a 3-0 record in their division. All the more impressive is that two of those games came on the road. At the end of the season when the divisional games creep back up, the Jets will be looking at a late season home game with warm weather Miami, and a Week 17 match-up at home against Buffalo, who may have even locked up the first pick in the draft by then.
Though the Jets have very loud mouths, their actions are speaking louder then their words. First place through a quarter of the season, beating every team in the division, two of them easily, the Jets have to be considered the favorite the win the division from here.